Mar 11

Grand Slam Reflections… The Getting There

I’m going to do this in parts… a look back at my Grand Slam down in Belize at El Pescador.

My Highly Improbably, Practically Impossible and Totally Ridiculous Grand Slam


First off, I need to say that I didn’t deserve it. It was way more than I expected, a feat for an angler who has put in some serious time in the salt. My casting isn’t good enough, my knots are sometimes suspect, my tarpon flies are “not there” yet and I was fishing with a buddy who can outfish me blindfolded. I may not have deserved my Inshore Grand Slam, my fish may not have been too large and I may have nearly squandered it all, but I’ll tell you what… I’ll take it.

An Inshore Grand Slam is a big deal because it is difficult. Permit are damn hard to find and nearly impossible to catch. Tarpon, with their boney mouths are notorious hook spitters. Bonefish are, by some distance, the easiest of the three. When bonefish, the gray ghost, is the easiest accomplishment… well… like I was saying… a Grand Slam is difficult.

As the plane crossed from Mexican airspace to Belizean airspace rain started to streak my window. As the plane touched down I could see giant puddles… the kind of puddles that don’t come from a passing thunderstorm. This was rain. Hard rain. Cats and dogs rain.

I hung my head and wished I had thrown back a couple of cocktails in the air. “It is what it is,” I told myself. “You just have to make the best of it” I repeated in my head. “The worst day fishing is better than the best day at work.” I thought, but I knew what I really meant was “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

This wasn’t a long trip, three full days, book-ended by a couple of half-days. If the storm lingered I could end up spending a lot of time in the bar and little time on the flats. I spent enough of my 20’s in bars and there are no bonefish flats in the SF Bay. I wanted to fish. I’d just have to see how things went.

The tiny plane that took me from Belize City to San Pedro on Ambergris Cay never got more than about 300 feet off the ground. It gave a great vantage of the endless flats in the lagoon between Ambergris and the mainland. I didn’t see fish from that high, but I did see muds… lots and lots of muds. There were fish down there on those flats… light green mottled flats with clumps of turtle grass and long prop scars. The flats… beautiful and abused and still alive.

I met up with my fishing companion, Shane, at the San Pedro airport and when I saw him, all we could do was just shrug and say “What can ya do?” Shane is about 5x the angler I am (and that’s probably being kind to myself in this particular bit of math). He’s a fly fishing guide working 200+ days a year and has 350+ days of bonefishing under his belt. He’s seen a hell of a lot more than I have, his casting is an order of magnitude better and he had a Grand Slam under his belt from Ascension Bay back in 1999. He’s been there and done that. I’ve just thought a lot about it, which is in no way the same thing.

We met Lori-Ann Murphy, Director of Fishing at El Pescador Lodge, at the dock in San Pedro. She has one of those jobs you dream about while desk-bound or snow-bound. She was standing on the dock in the rain and quickly offered a beer, which was quickly accepted and quickly drained. The boat ride up to El Pescador took about 10 minutes and was my first real look at Ambergris. The thin strip of solid land that separates the Caribbean from Chetumal Bay is covered with developments… resorts, condos, private homes… one after another squeezed along side each other. Most are beautiful places, some are not, but they all face the Caribbean, sheltered by the normal waves of the sea by the barrier reef just a couple hundred feet off-shore. Between the reef and the land is a solid blanket of turtle grass swaying in the tides.

Belize is a popular place these days. Retirees are moving down in droves from the States and in the booming days of the US Real Estate bubble the bulldozers and dredgers were doing heavy work down in Belize clearing mangroves and digging channels for all that US Cheese that was coming down. Developments moved from solid land to infilling the tidal flats and mangrove swamps. Belize remains a breathtakingly beautiful place, but when the US economy recovers (it is going to recover, isn’t it?) the bulldozers will be close behind. It is a fight that is going on right now… in Ambergris, in Turneffe, in Placencia. It’ll be a damn shame if we lose all that… a damn shame indeed.

Next up… The Permit

Oct 10

Some Sage Sticks for Belize

When I go to Belize in November I’ll be bringing a couple of loaner rods along.  I’m going to be sporting a rod that has been talked about more than any other in the interviews I’ve done… the Sage Xi3.  I’ll be sporting a 7 and a 10, courtesy of Sage.  I have to send them back when I return, but I figure I’ll get around that by just never coming back.

My first rod was a 4  piece pack rod from South Bend… fiberglass, I believe, and very old (I found it in my parent’s garage).  I used that for a year and a half or so before I got my first “modern” rod… a Sage RPL+ 9′ 5 wt… a great nymphing stick for the cold waters coming off of the sides of Mount Shasta in Northern California.

Later, I was given a 7 wt. GFL by a guiding client.  When that snapped at the cork (it had been around the block a few hundred times) Sage offered me to upgrade for a fee to a 7 wt. RPL.  So, I’ve owned three different Sage Rods over the years, currently two out of the 12 rods I have are Sage.

I’m looking forward to getting these rods out on the grass of the school down the street before I take them out to the turtle grass in Belize.

Check out this extensive review of the Sage Xi3 I found on SurfTalk/Stripers On-Line.

The Sage Xi3 7 wt. is the rod of choice of Lori-Ann Murphy, Director of Fishing at El Pescador.  So… I’ll be in good company throwing that bit of Sage graphite.

One of these sticks will run you just about $700 bones dollars over at The Fly Shop.

Aug 10

South Beach Belize… douchebags.

I enjoyed my recent interview with Lori-Ann Murphy of El Pescador.  After talking with her I did some more poking around on-line to see what I could find out about development or over-development in Ambergris.

The first thing I found was nice little video by Wil Flack, good friend of Lori-Ann and seemingly all around good guy.


South Beach Belize… it sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t it be nice to retire down in Belize… grab your rod in the morning after you’ve had your coffee and go and catch a bonefish in out your front door?  It does sound nice.  The downside is that they have to dredge the bejesus out of the flats and bulldoze the hell out of the mangroves to get that front door there.  All those mangroves are where the fish live/grow/hunt.  You nuke the mangroves and you nuke the fishing.

I don’t even know that much about saltwater fishing, but I can understand that pretty well.

This is what greed looks like.

Sounds like these guys have been botching the job since day -1 (and more).

You can seen the construction, right up against a protected area.

It is a little difficult to figure out what exactly is happening on the ground.  I found the website for Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development and their listing of the status of current projects. They seem to think that the project has not been green-lit, although it is easy enough to find folks selling South Beach Belize property.

It sounds like the project is on hold for now.  Before you go and drop some coin on a little bit of raped and pillaged Belize, just think that these guys sold plots for a project that isn’t even in the bag.  That can’t be good.

I have no idea, but I can’t get this video to embed in this post… here’s a link to a video called “How South Beach Belize Will Impact Ambergris.”

Aug 10

Interview with Lori-Ann Murphy

Lori-Ann Murphy has a job that I would consider killing for.  Not really… well… maybe… depends who is asking I guess.  She is the Director of Fishing at El Pescador Lodge in Belize.  She didn’t luck into it though (which is the only way I’d get that kind of job).  She was the first female Orvis endorsed guide.  She’s been a guide for 21 years.  She splits time in Montana and Belize… basically places with fish.  She founded Reel Women, which I’ll try to tell my wife about in the vain hope she’ll desire to cast a fly some day.

Not huge, but they count.

Lori-Ann with Wil Flack and a couple little permit (although one may be a pamoleta). Double Date.

Lori-Ann called all the way from Belize for this interview, which my three year old daughter crashed at least twice.  Thanks Lori-Ann.

Your title is “Director of Fishing.” What does that entail there at El Pescador Lodge?

I’m a liaison between the guests and the guides. Today I’m going to do a fishing orientation… I bring a big map and show everyone where we are and I tell everyone about the lagoon in the back and all the fishing they can do around here on their own and what the guided experience is all about and get them ready for that.  I look over their flies.  We have a full quiver of fly rods here, 8-12 wt, so if they need to be outfitted with one of our fly rods I’ll take care of that.  In the morning I introduce everyone to their guides and explain the day. I work with the guides. I have a great team of 11 that I love to pieces.  The day before yesterday I had a guide meeting.  I’m also a nurse, so when I first came here in November they were asking why we were having all these meetings, and I said “I’m a nurse, we have meetings.” We have monthly meetings with the guides to discuss all the things that come up, guest relations to environment to whatever the current thing we might be doing is.

For the people that come out to El Pescador, where to you think their expectations are compared to the reality of the experience?

I’m amazed that beginner saltwater angles come here and say “I want to get a Permit” and they do. El Pescador is a great place for beginners because we have a bagillion bonefish and while they might not be as big as the Bahamas, but they are all hot fish, 2-6 pounds… a 6-8 fish is huge.  I was just reading an evaluation from a beginner and he was fully expecting, as a beginner, to land a grand slam.  I think people probably have been reading too many magazines and watching too many TV shows and some people are quickly humbled in the salt.  I usually do daily casting lessons at 4:30 on how to have an efficient cast and how to pick it up and shoot it and how to change the speed of your haul and all that stuff.  Expectations are all over the map. Generally, people come here with really high expectations and it works, somehow.

It seems Ambergris has become very popular.  I’ve seen the Currents of Belize and my overall impression is that there is a lot of development and that over-development is either happening or about to happen.  What’s your impression being down there?

Wil Flack and all the guys who did Currents of Belize, those guys are all my friends.  Twenty years ago it was a small fishing village.  Ten years ago it really changed.  The government was able to sell land and when you sell land people were also able to dredge up the flats.  So that’s been going on a lot. A lot of my time in Belize was in the 90’s and that wasn’t happening.  Allie, the owner here dedicates 20% of her time trying to preserve the land around here so we can keep the mangroves intact, keep the flats intact so we have a sustainable fishery for future generations.  That’s a really big discussion down here.  There’s Green Reef and other organizations that are trying to do good things. Allie had investors buying land.  Leonardo DiCaprio bought a Cay, Black Door Cay, and Allie bought four small keys to preserve and put it in a land trust.  We hope to see more of that. The San Pedranos here have seen SO much change in the last 20 years.  At first it was wonderful since people went from a small fishing village to actually having some money.  The guides here make a lot of money, between $60K and $100K.  We’ve all seen a lot of change.  There is a huge push to keep Ambergris from just getting sold right off.

BTT’s Aaron Adams scouting out El Pescador

I was a big fan of Pirates of the Flats and have been watching the news coming out about Buccaneers and Bones.  What was it like to be part of that project?

I was really flattered.  It was a lot of fun.  I had that week off my  regular responsibilities because I was involved in the fishing and filming end of it.  It was great to get to know the whole crew. Of course, Tom Brokaw, Michael Keaton, Tom McGuane, they all have a place up on the Bolder River in Montana and I live close to there (I live here for 9 months and in Montana the other 3).  That Montana connection was wonderful and being able to see the passion and commitment from Yvon Chouinard.  Tom Brokaw would say something, we were talking about the oil spill and he said “We have to stop calling it an oil spill because it is a catastrophe and it will affect our lives for our future.”  All off a sudden you realize that is Tom Brokaw speaking there and he’s had his foot on every place on the planet. Michael Keaton was really passionate and really fun… pumped up and excited to be part of things.  We had that tropical depression Alex come in and that was interesting.  Everyone bolted out of here a day early.

Pirates, er, Buccaneers

Lori-Ann with Wil Flack and, on the right, Zach Gilford

Going to Florida, Stu Apte has been a friend of mine but I’ve never been able to fish with him before, so that was quite an honor to be tarpon fishing and hanging out with Stu Apte. I hadn’t met Jerry Alt.  Being able to hear those guys talk and be right there at the ground level talking about tarpon migration and data and being a part of tagging fish, both bonefish and tarpon. It was fantastic.

I had a nervous breakdown in Florida over a tarpon, so I can’t wait for that episode.

El Pescador, Ally and the crew really work as a team around here and it was such a big production.  We had guests here too… it was a big deal.

What’s your go-to rod and reel right now?

Jerry Siem is one of my very dear friends and I’m very fortunate to fish Sage Rods and Reels.  I also fish Hatch Reels, I have a few Tibors and I like those as well.

My favorite rod right now is the Xi3  7 wt.

You throw a 7 because the bones are a little smaller there?

I just love this rod. I just love the action of it.  The bonefish are smaller here so you don’t need to throw a whole lot of line.  Today I went down to 16 pound because I saw some Permit, didn’t get them, but it sure was fun.

I have Xi3’s in 7, 8, 9 and 11.

When you are out on the water a lot you see things that others just don’t see.  Do you have any stories of things you’ve seen by virtue of being out there on the water as much as you are?

Sure, I have two stories right off the bat.  One, I was fishing with my friend Wil Flack and we were bonefishing out in the lagoon out back, which is stellar. We canoed out and then got out to wade this little bay. It’s a muddy bay and we were both up to our knees in mud.  We were on opposite sides of the bay. We were probably 200 yards apart.  I saw a 7 foot long dark thing come right in between us from the mangroves.  I’m thinking “Tarpon!”  I can’t wait to see the big tarpon back.  I’ve seen lots of baby tarpon, but I’m thinking I’m seeing big tarpon.  I cast to this thing (I had a bonefish fly on, but my nature instinct is just to cast) I give this thing a cranial and it stops.  I’m yelling to Wil and he’s just so focused because he has a ton of bonefish in front of him.  He looks up and the thing gets sideways and the tail goes “wahwahwah.” He yells “That’s a Croc!”  We didn’t move.  At the end of the day we were talking about it and said “I’ve never waded with a Croc before.”  At the time we were just in such bonefish fever we didn’t want to give it up.  We had waves of bonefish coming at us.  This Croc just swam right between us and just left.  We continued fishing all day and didn’t really think about it until the end of the day.

Another time we were out there fishing with Wil and Paulie, these guys are steelhead guides up on the Sustut, and Paulie is out there catching his first bonefish.  We turn around and this Frigatebird (Frigatebirds can’t land in the water, they can’t take off and die if they land in the water) nearly turns itself inside out and nails about a 3 pound bonefish and flies off with it. I’ve been fishing since ’92 and I’ve never seen that.

Thanks Lori-Ann!

Jul 10

Lori-Ann Murphy at El Pescador via ESPN

AMBERGRIS CAYE, Belize — “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this,” I asked.

OK, not a very original line but this time an honest question.

Lori-Ann Murphy is the fishing and guest relation’s host for one of the best fishing and most famous lodges in the tropics, El Pescador Lodge in the Central American country of Belize.

via Slam: Six degrees of Kevin Bacon – ESPN.

Lori-Ann is also in the new fly fishing show Buccaneers and Bones, the successor to Pirates of the Flats.

Lori-Ann Murphy

Jul 10

El Pescador, Buccaneers and Bones

More news on Buccaneers and Bones from the filming down in Belize and El Pescador.

…this past week Ambergris Caye was host to some heavy weights in the entertainment industry as they filmed “Buccaneers and Bones”. El Pescador (Lodge) was chosen from three locations in Belize to host Orion Multimedia, Michael Keaton actor/director, Tom Brokaw news anchor/author, Yvon Chouninard founder Patagonia, Bill Klyn director Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, Zach Gilford actor, Thomas McGuane acclaimed author, Lori-Ann Murphy director of fishing at El Pescador, and Aaron Adams, scientist, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. According to Ali Flota of El Pescador, this was the “Coup de grace of fly fishing”, and truly an honor.

via El Pescador hosts Stars, Belize News, San Pedro Sun.

Don't you wish you were there? (photo from San Pedro Sun)

Jun 10

A Pirate By Another Name

If you watched Pirates of the Flats last year on ESPN you’ll recognize some of the names… Yvon Chouinard, Tom Brokaw, Michael Keaton and Bill Klyn are all there.  New are Zach Gilford and Lori-Ann Murphy.

A new show is in the works, basically Pirates of the Flats 2, but renamed, expanded and moved from the network  that no longer supports angling, to a network that does… the Outdoor Network.

The cameras are moving from the flats of Abaco to the flats of Florida and Belize and the target species are expanding from bonefish to include permit and tarpon.  The new show films this summer and will broadcast in early 2011.

Once again this will be done in conjunction with the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, so conservation will be a cornerstone of the program.


This, but a little different.